Thursday, August 13, 2020

Review of Cursed Objects--Beware, this book may be cursed...or not.


I own Mr. Ocker's book, Poeland, and I really enjoy his humor and his deep research into his subject. (Poe, if you weren't able to guess.)  Although I still liked his humor, I felt he was having to stretch to have enough cursed items to fill a book. At one point, he says there aren't that many cursed items out there. (Haunted items and cursed items are two different things.) There is a chapter on things that ought to be cursed, but aren't. Even the chapter on cursed items sold on ebay didn't garner too many examples.

Maybe he should have put out a nationwide notice. "Who out there has cursed stuff?" A friend of mine's great-great grandmother survived the Chicago fire as a little girl, but her family lost everything. A lady, who also lost her house, gave her a ceramic dog to play with. The dog was pockmarked and blistered from the fire, but the child kept it and handed it down from generation to generation. Everybody in the family who owned that dog through the years had their house catch on fire. Cursed? I'd say so!

There's probably a gazillion things out there in families that are believed to be cursed. Mr. Ocher should make a general shout-out for cursed stuff, then use his humor to make a book. Maybe call it Cursed America. I'd buy it.

Thank you to Netgalley and Quirk Books for this digital ARC.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

The only thing wrong with this book is the title.

 A couple of years ago, I saw Michael Dahl, the writer of middle-grade horror, at the Oklahoma Writers Federation Inc. conference in Oklahoma City (first weekend in May, if you're interested.) He said horror for middle-grade is huge and they can't buy enough of it. With that in mind, I've been reading some middle-grade and YA horror. 

Of Salt and Shore, by Annet Shaape, is a good book for a ten-year-old (or thereabouts) who wants scary but not too scary. In it, what we think of as monsters turn out to be good, and the people who are supposed to care and protect us, turn out to be monsters.  The folks in the freak show are good and kind, even though they get stared at for a living. Mermaids are lovely but they bite. Even humans without supernatural magic can create with their hands, like Nick, who always builds with wood something that people and merboys don't know they need until they have it.

But, does the title convey the magic, the pirates, the horror, and the existence of mermaids? It's a lovely book but I don't think a kid looking for mermaids and mermen who bite will pick it up based on the title and cover.

There is some child beating which can be disturbing. As I said, some of the humans are more monstrous than the monsters. Most of the humans are good, though, and willing to help the protagonist, Lampie. 

If you're interested in writing middle-grade horror, try a book like Of Salt and Shore because there are limits to how much you can scare kids. This seems like just about the right amount of scares.

A big thank you to Charlesbridge Publishers for this digital ARC copy of Of Salt and Shore.

Where the Wild Ladies Are from Soft Skull Press

 Where the Wild Ladies are has to be the most unique collection of ghost stories I've ever read. The ghosts are sometimes pushy, sometimes annoying, often exasperating, usually surprising, and occasionally fed up with people. Some of the dead are way happier as ghosts than they were when alive. Almost all of the stories have a surprise including one where you think the ghost sleeps and patrols with her cat...but it turns out to be something entirely different.

Another surprise is that after reading a few stories, you start to realize they're interconnected, so read from the beginning to the end since characters in stories reappear in others. 

If you're tired of scary stories where you can predict everything that is about to happen, try Where the Wild Ladies Are. You don't know what frightening is until you're confronted with two lady salespeople ghosts who refuse to leave your house until you buy a peony lantern (that you really don't want)  from them.

The author, Aoko Matsuda explains, at the end of the book, the ancient Japanese ghost stories these were based on. Her stories, though, are updated. These ghosts are not putting up with the crap ghosts of the past endured.

Thank you to Netgalley for the chance to read and review a digital ARC of Where the Wild Ladies Are.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Review of The Lost Village or The Protagonist Should Have Planned Better

The Lost Village is a book I both did and didn't like. It would probably make a good movie as there were plenty of jump scares--strange figures seen in the night, strange sounds, people falling through floors. Isolated place with no phone signal. The final, virginal girl, or in this case, two.

Nine hundred people in an old mining village go missing. The great-granddaughter of one of the missing enlists a former friend who is a film-maker, the money man who is financing the expedition, the film-maker's boyfriend, and another relative of a survivor into coming with her to scout out the abandoned village for a documentary. The protagonist suffers from depression, was never successful like the other film school graduates, and thinks this documentary will be the key to her success.

All right so far. But, Alice, the protagonist, doesn't seem to know a lot for being a film school graduate.. Her goals for the five days were rather slipshod and she didn't know her rented camera took videos in addition to still photos. I began to realize why she was the least successful student in her film classes. I'm not a film student and I can tell if a camera takes videos or not.  Alice mostly accidently discovers stuff instead of having a plan. 

Of the five people in the group, two are on medication for mental problems and they both happen to be women. Why, in the books I read, is it always the women who are suffering? The two men seem happy as clams, although I don't know how happy clams really are.

So, the protagonist spent a bundle on rented vehicles and camera equipment but doesn't seem particularly prepared. Her former friend takes over and we're supposed to resent this as does Alice. But, geez, Alice didn't get her act together before the trip.

I like strong women in my books and Alice wasn't it. There were other strong women, especially Elsa who is in the background story, but the protagonist just let things happen to her. I also figured out who the culprit was and where the villagers disappeared to long before the characters did.

There were characters who I felt sorry for like Brigritta who had autism, characters to dislike like the over-the-top minister, but, except for Elsa in the backstory, the characters were mainly blah.

It would still make a good movie because people fall through floors on a regular basis. But, in a movie the rusty fire escape will have to break and somebody will have to swing on it, hanging on for dear life. I wonder if they need a script writer? I'm on a roll here.

Thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin's for the digital advance reader copy.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Review of The Hollow Places-----Humorous Horror

T. Kingfisher's novel, The Twisted Ones, was one of my favorite books from last year, so I was excited to get this review copy from Netgalley and the publisher. I wasn't disappointed. T. Kingfisher writes the best characters. Except for the spooky killer characters, and/or the annoying spouse, these are people who you'd like to know. They're just odd enough to make them interesting and endearing. 

Although I'd like to hug the characters, there are frightening and chilling "things" and victims of the "things" that are a constant and dangerous menace. 

There were times I foresaw what would happen. For instance, I guessed the evil object creating the havoc before the protagonist did. But, the humor (Kingfisher is very funny) and the fun characters (even the cat is fantastic,) and the peril more than make up for the fact the sometimes the reader is ahead of the game.

 I love both The Twisted Ones and The Hollow Places. I look forward to future Kingfisher novels.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Review: James Lee Burke's Private Cathedral

For older guys who have soaked their brains in alcohol for decades, been shot, beaten, blown up, kicked in the heads, and tortured, detectives Clete and Robicheaux are in fighting shape. Not only that, but Robicheaux must have a closet full of Viagra because, for an old, depressed, fried guy, he has no trouble getting on with gangsters' wives and girlfriends. When will Clete and Robicheaux ever learn? How have they lived this long?

Why am I writing about a James Lee Burke novel, A Private Cathedral, when I normally cover horror? Because every once in awhile, Burke's books feature ghosts, demons, dead Confederates, and figures that may or may not be of the imagination. Sometimes the denizens of the night are in Robicheaux's mind, but everybody seems to be seeing the Medieval lizard-man who rides a sea-going galleon rowed by the damned. Who is this torturer from the past and is the Louisiana mob in the hands of the devil?

It takes two frayed, soused, haunted, depressed detectives to take on the demon.

One of the things I've always liked about Burke's books is that they describe the wet, the humid, the rotting and the beauty of the swamps and bayous in such a way that you feel like you are there. I've lived in the deep South (I know, I know, I've lived a lot of places) and there is something spooky and supernatural about it. Burke is good at bringing out the reasons the deep South feels cursed As William Faulkner said, "The past isn't dead, it isn't even past."  Burke's Louisiana books, including Private Cathedral, are full of the atmosphere that the past isn't past.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Review: Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse.

I was walking my dog in a park once when I saw three or four crows throwing a black rag around, taking turns picking it up and tossing it.  Bear with me because this has something to do with Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse. Getting closer, I saw that it wasn't a rag, but was a black kitten.  I chased them off, and caught the kitten , which wasn't easy since my dog was with me.

The crows had pulled the kitten's chin off. I took her home, named her Voodoo, had her for many years, but she never grew back her knobby little pudge-ball of a chin.

So, when you get to the crow attacks in Black Sun, believe it because those beastly things will pull your chin off in a heartbeat. Or pluck your eyeball out. Ugh.

I've read Ms. Roanhorse's books, Trail of Lightning and Storm of Locusts and enjoyed them very much. I used to live across the San Juan River from the Navajo Reservation and that area means a lot to me. At first I was a little sad that Black Sun wasn't in the Southwest like her other books. . And, although I like strong women characters, there was a woman sea captain and women sea captains seem to be a thing now. Gosh, I think I've read four books with women ship's captains in the past twelve months.

Although I got off to a slow start because I thought it was yet another fantasy with a woman captain, after a bit I really got into the story, and cared about the characters. The crow boy's childhood was almost too painful to read. Everybody inflicted physical and mental pain on him.. He grew up to be extremely gentle and a vicious killing machine. This is where the crows come in. You do not want to get on the wrong side of a killer with crows. There is a reason they're called a "murder" of crows. They will rip your chin and other body parts off before you can get a broom to swat them. Being gutted by a crow. Geez, what a way to go.

I even grew to like the woman sea captain, even though the seas are swarming with female captains now.

Read this if you like strong women, murderous women, a murderous crow boy, and murderous crows of all sizes, some humongous.  And keep your face mask on. You never know when a crow might go for your chin.

Thanks to Netgalley and Saga press for this ARC of Black Sun.